There have been 48 women killed in six months for “un-Islamic behaviour”. The murders in the teeming southern port of Basra have highlighted the weakness of the security forces and the strength of Islamic militias as Britain prepares to hand over control to Iraqi officials today.
In another case, two teenagers saw a woman beaten to death by five or six men from the Mahdi Army, Basra’s most powerful militia. One picked up a rock and crushed her skull. The teenagers were told that their home and family would be destroyed if they betrayed the killers.
The Bush Administration measures success in Iraq by declines in the total amount of killing. But local monopolies in violence can lower the rate of killing while raising the level of repression and reducing the level of freedom. Bush and company point to the elections and claim that democracy is great. But democracy is making Iraqi women less free than they were under Saddam.
Before the invasion, Iraqi women had rights enshrined in the country's constitution since 1959 that were among the broadest of any Arab or Islamic nation. The new constitution says that women are equal under the law; critics, however, have condemned a provision that says no law can contradict the "established rulings" of Islam as weakening women's rights.
The vigilantes patrol the streets of some cities on motorbikes or in cars with dark-tinted windows and no license plates. They accost or harass women who aren't wearing the traditional robe and head scarf known as the hijab. Religious extremists also have been known to attack men for clothes or even haircuts deemed too Western.
Another woman, a 43-year old Christian housewife, said her family was driven from the city where they had lived for years, and fled to a Christian neighborhood of Baghdad.
"It started last May when gunmen stopped me and my husband as we were walking and asked me about my clothes and why I did not wear the hijab," she said. "Then we were beaten when I told them that we are Christians, and they threatened to kill me if I would not respect Islam in this city."
This time a man in the black clothes of the Shia militia stopped them at the entrance and took them aside. “He said, 'We asked you yesterday to wear a hijab, so why are you and your friends not covering your hair?'. He was talking very aggressively and I was scared,” Zeena recalled.
The girls explained that they were Christians and that their faith did not call for headscarves. “He said: 'Outside this university you are Christian and can do what you want; inside you are not. Next time I want to see you wearing a hijab or I swear to God the three of you will be killed immediately',” Zeena recalled. Terrified, the girls ran home. They now wear the headscarf all the time.
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The Iraqi government has ordered all policewomen to hand in their guns for redistribution to men or face having their pay withheld, thwarting a U.S. initiative to bring women into the nation's police force.
The Ministry of Interior, which oversees police, issued the order late in November, according to ministry documents, U.S. officials and several of the women.
Serving as a police officer in Iraq is a dangerous job because opponents of the regime kill anyone who works for the regime. Well, a police officer without a gun is an easier target than one with a gun. These women are now in much more danger since they can no longer carry a gun.
Basra, Iraq - The billboard in Umm al-Broom Square was meant to advertise a cellphone service. Instead, it has become a message to those who dare to resist the rising tide of fundamentalist Islam in Iraq's second largest city.
The female model's face is now covered with black paint. Graffiti scrawled below reads, "No! No to unveiled women."
That message joins the chorus of ultraconservative voices and radical militias that are transforming this once liberal port city that boasted some of Iraq's most lively nightclubs into a bastion for hard-line Shiite Islamists since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Now, as the British prepare to exit Basra Province altogether after pulling out from this provincial capital last week, they leave behind what has been described by many here as an emerging "Shiite Taliban state," a reference to Sunni extremists in Afghanistan.
The overthrow of Saddam Hussein did not usher in a golden era of freedom in Iraq. In fact, the opposite is the case. You might think this obvious, hardly worthy of a blog post at this point. But the happy talkers who defend the war put a positive spin on changes in Iraq and a substantial portion of the populace of the United States are deceived by the happy talkers. Hence obvious truths require boring repetition.
Iraq should be a cautionary tale. Overthrow a tyrant in an Arab country and secular society gets shrunken and forced underground.
The Muslims see a return to fundamentalism as a defense against the West.
"Ultimately, what we will see in Iraq is a conservative society, whether in the Shiite or Sunni areas. Sunnis, too, are going through a very difficult process that will result in the rise of conservatism and fundamentalism," says Ahmed Moussalli, a lecturer and expert on Islamic movements at the American University in Beirut. From the perspective of many, he says, "Iraq and other places [in the Arab world] are under attack ... by the West and there is a lot of return to religion in order to empower themselves to fight the 'infidels.' "
The invasion of Iraq was a mistake. The whole world isn't just like America in their views about freedom or about women or about the relationship between religion and state. Also, we have no vital interests to protect in Iraq. We have nothing to gain by staying there.
In a bizarre example of Iraq's creeping "Talibanisation", militants visited falafel vendors a fortnight ago, telling them to pack up their stalls by today or be killed.
The ultimatum seemed so odd that, at first, most laughed it off - until two of them were shot dead as they plied their trade.
"They came telling us, 'You have 14 days to end this job' and I asked them what was the problem," said Abu Zeinab, 32, who was packing up his stall for good yesterday in the suburb of al Dora, a hardline Sunni neighbourhood.
"I said I was just feeding the people, but they said there were no falafels in Mohammed the prophet's time, so we shouldn't have them either.
"I felt like telling them there were no Kalashnikovs in Mohammed's time either, but I wanted to keep my life."
This brings to mind a great scene in the movie Lawrence Of Arabia. Right after Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) kills the guide Talas in response Peter O'Toole as TE Lawrence says.
"Sherif Ali! So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they remain a little people. A silly people! Greedy, barbarous, and cruel-as you are!"
Some of those dull minds in Iraq are banning falafel stands. How little and silly can you get?
I do not expect that the death of Abu Musab al Zarqawi will make the falafel stand killers any more reasonable.
Such is the life of a lawyer in a nearly lawless society. Iraq's legal system, once one of the most secular in the Middle East, is a shambles. If a "Law and Order" spinoff were set in Baghdad, it would feature police who are afraid to investigate sectarian murders (or are complicit in them, many say), lawyers afraid to take either side of a case and risk the wrath of powerful militias or well-armed gangs, judges assassinated for the decisions they have handed down, and the occasional car bombing at the courthouse.
These events probably have little or nothing to do with the foreign fighters who were under Zarqawi. Criminal gangs and militias will continue to kidnap, kill, and rob.
Now, many of the best-educated have fled the country, and yet life goes on in the lawyers' union, Iraq's equivalent of a bar association, which has 42,000 members nationwide. Well-dressed attorneys flitted in and out of Hamdoun's office quietly, asking the union leader to sign papers. Downstairs, they met in the dark, cigarette smoke-filled cafeteria below Hamdoun's office, where they talked shop with each other or their clients. Their sentiment was unanimous: They preferred the dictator's law to none at all.
"We were waiting for the day when Saddam was gone," said one lawyer, Ali Gatie al-Jubouri, who spent nine years studying engineering in Michigan, only to become a lawyer after he inherited a fortune in property from his father. "But now we feel sorry that Saddam's days are over. It's a tragedy."
These lawyers are right about the lawlessness. A recent kidnapping group rounded up 56 people in one fell swoop.
Many people, like Shamaa's friend, believe the kidnappers are actually police. Usually the hostages are held for ransom. Sometimes they are killed because of their faith or ethnicity.
The fate of the 56 people was unknown Monday night. But the scale and audacity of the operation were unusual even by the capital's lawless standards.
The gunmen seized workers from several bus companies that offer transport to Syria and Jordan, witnesses and police said. Others of those taken were passengers aboard the buses: Syrian businessmen going home, a handful of Palestinians, Iraqis. Many Iraqis are leaving their own country precisely because it is the sort of place where a trip to the bus stop can end with being led away at gunpoint.
The US invasion - and insufficient US soldiers to maintain order - shattered Iraq. Humpty Dumpty had a big fall. All King George's horse and all King George's men can't put Iraq back together again.
People are afraid to report kidnappings to the police.
Abduction statistics are unreliable because many families do not report crimes, fearing the police as much as they do the kidnapping gangs.
Imagine living in a country where you would be afraid to report a kidnapping. We can't trust official figures on the number killed since many of the kidnapped and killed never even get reported as kidnapped, let alone killed.
Many US soldiers want to succeed in their mission and some insist on going back even after serious injuries. (and see this chart of the rate of wounding of US soldiers in Iraq) But Iraq's biggest problem is the Iraqi people. Too many Iraqis are willing to join criminal gangs and insurgencies and too few feel much motivation to personally fight against the lure of factional loyalty, the insurgents, the criminal gangs, and the fundamentalist Muslims.
Witnesses in the district where the attack happened, said that for more than two weeks, women have been targeted by acid attackers for dressing immodestly. Sometimes the assailants spray or throw the acid on foot, or on occasion, from a moving car. Other attacks have been even more shocking.
Women could wear Western style clothing without being attacked during Saddam's reign.
During Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraqi women were more or less free to wear what they wanted. In the 1980s Iraq was considered one of the most Western countries in the region in terms of fashion.
Some women are defiant.
"I won’t force myself to use something that I don’t feel comfortable with. Women in Iraq are losing their place in society and we have to fight that and determine who we are and how we should dress, despite these dangers," Hiba Zuheir, 24, a resident of Mansour district, said.
This problem goes a lot deeper than the insurgency. Saddam held back the more fundamentalist segments of Iraq's Muslim population. Now they are no longer restrained by a totalitarian state and they are trying to force all of Iraq's people to live according to their beliefs.
The phone calls that Miriem Ishaq, a Christian lawyer in this northern Iraqi city, received recently were chilling: wear the veil or face death, she was told. Ishaq knew the threats were serious. A woman she knew personally had been killed during the last Muslim holy month of Ramadan for failing to wear a veil. Then to underline the intimidation, several men attacked Ishaq on her way to work, poured acid on her clothes and spat on her face because she was unveiled. “These attacks have forced hundreds of Christians to wear Islamic veils now,” said Ishaq.
The Iraqi equivalent of the Taliban roams the streets of Iraq's cities.
The intimidation and the attacks have forced other women in Mosul to give up going to work. And outside the home many no longer wear makeup for fear of being attacked by militants. One woman, who used to own a beauty salon, wept as she spoke about having to close it down after being threatened. “"It was a good source of income, and I liked my job in the hairdressing shop,” said Sara, who declined to give her real name. “But a new Taleban movement has turned Iraq into another Afghanistan."
For women this large loss of rights in Iraq looks likely to be long term. Therefore, to argue that the invasion of Iraq freed people in the Western sense of "free" then one must ignore half the population.
Also see my previous posts Position Of Women In Iraq Worsens, Iraqi Women Fearful They Will Lose Rights To Fundamentalists, Islamists And Threat Of Rape Both Fears Of Iraqi Women, and Sharia Family Law Coming To Iraq.
To understand the obsession with veiling see my posts Consanguinity prevents Middle Eastern political development and Pessimists on Muslim Democracy and John Tierney On Cousin Marriage As Reform Obstacle In Iraq. Veils are closely linked to the practice of consanguineous (cousin) marriage.
Some continued supporters of the war in Iraq are thrilled that Americans are in Iraq because they think America is fighting for democracy. But these fans of democracy lose sight of the fact that democracy is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Democracy does not automatically and reliably produce the sorts of outcomes that most Westerners envision when they think of a democratic society. Classically liberal support for the rights of others - including respect for the right to freedom of speech even by those critical of a government or critical of majority beliefs - is not always a feature of democracy everywhere in the world. The reason is simple: Lots of people do not believe in some of the rights that are recognized in the West and some reject the idea of rights altogether. Take Iraq for instance. The harder core Islamist Shiites in Iraq want a more Islamic constitution now that they appear to be headed to electoral victory.
NAJAF, Iraq, Feb. 4 - With religious Shiite parties poised to take power in the new constitutional assembly, leading Shiite clerics are pushing for Islam to be recognized as the guiding principle of the new constitution.
Exactly how Islamic to make the document is the subject of debate.
At the very least, the clerics say, the constitution should ensure that legal measures overseeing personal matters like marriage, divorce and family inheritance fall under Shariah, or Koranic law. For example, daughters would receive half the inheritances of sons under that law.
Equal rights for women? Not where claims of rights clash with interpretations of the Koran. One irony here is that the Koranic requirement that women get one third of inheritances was a step toward sexual equality when it was first implemented. But the codification of that rule into religious doctrine now is an impediment to equality before the law.
In educational, political and social terms, the gulf is enormous. A tiny proportion of people in the south can be described as muthaqaf, or cultured and educated, compared to those in the north.
In the south, 60 per cent have not progressed beyond primary education, a difference compounded by the religiosity of the largely Shia south.
News flash: poorly educated believers in an oppressive religion are not enlightened voters.
The two most powerful parties in the coalition are the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Dawa, religiously based parties supported by Iran, with whom they were allied during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
SCIRI, in particular, was long seen as being partially controlled by Tehran and the Badr Brigade, its militia, fought for Iran against Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war.
This is what American boys are dying for: a democratically elected Shia religious state run by people who are fond of the Ayatollahs of Iran. This is the very same Iran that the neocons want to attack next.
Adam Lawson of the Modern Tribalist (cool blog name btw) points to an article by Thanassis Cambanis of the Boston Globe who claims that the constitutional debate in Iraq on the place of religion in government will be between moderate Islamists and hard-core Islamists with the secularists scarcely to be heard.
The clerics of Najaf who orchestrated the Shi'ite political party coalition say they expect a constitutional debate between hard-core Islamists, who want Koranic law to be the constitution's primary source, and moderate Islamists, who want a milder form of religious law. This debate, they say, will dwarf any challenge from secular parties.
Neato, huh? We are helping to give birth to an Islamic state and we are paying for this outcome with blood and money. The US invasion of Iraq was one of George W. Bush's faith-based initiatives.
Already many branches of government ministries and the Army have become "balkanised" by Shi’ite political groups such as the Dawa Party, making it difficult for non-members to get jobs. And after 30 years of systematic discrimination by Saddam in favour of his fellow Sunnis, nobody is optimistic that anti-discrimination laws will be listened to much.
Secular Iraqis also suspect the Shi’ite religious parties have a much longer-term game in mind, one in which curbs on the rights of women, and religious tinkering in government will only begin after the watchful US presence ends.
"The Shi’ite Islamists are not stupid people," said Dr Ghanem Saleh, a senior figure in the Omar Party, a new political grouping made up partly of exiles from the Saddam-era Iraqi opposition movement in Britain. "They will establish rule step by step, just as they did in Iran. Right now they are happy to accept secular figures in government, but they are gradually preparing the country for an Islamic state."
Kurdish Muslims are complaining that Iraqi government Arabs prevented the Kurds from getting enough ballots to vote while at the same time Christians in the Iraqi north living under Kurdish Muslim domination complain that the Kurdish Muslims prevented the Christians from getting enough ballots.
The Kurdish deputy governor of Mosul, Khasro Goran, said Kurdish parties also would lodge a complaint with the election commission about the alleged irregularities in the north.
"This affects 200,000 people," he said. Without giving details, Goran alleged that election officials had deliberately tried to suppress the Kurdish vote in the north, an ethnic tinderbox.
Patto also said that while other Assyrian-populated towns had ballot boxes, there was an inadequate supply of ballots. She estimated voting irregularities prevented 50,000 Assyrians from voting.
In another recent ethnic incident, a Christian demonstrator was so severely beaten up by Kurdish political party workers, he is still in the hospital, Isho said. Christians protested Monday near the northern city of Mosul, complaining that an estimated 150,000 did not get a chance to vote because ballot boxes never arrived.
Infuriated Assyrians filled the streets of Baghdeda- the largest Assyrian town in the Nineveh Plain-and demonstrated against the KDP's overt disenfranchisement of Assyrians.
According to Iraq sources, the ballot boxes had been stored in Arbil, the stronghold of the KDP. The resulting unavailability of ballot boxes affected up to 100,000 Assyrian voters and tens of thousands of Yezidis, Shabak, and Turkman voters. The outright denial of voting rights to Assyrians and other non-Kurdish minorities culminates several months of intimidation, beatings, beheadings, burnings, and mutilations of Assyrian Christians in the Nineveh Plain.
Mind you, this is what these groups are willing to do with about 150,000 US soldiers in the country. Imagine what they will do once American soldiers leave.
In northern Iraq, protests have repeatedly broken out over the last few days in several cities, where officials claim that hundreds of thousands of citizens, many of them Kurdish Christians, were not able to vote because balloting materials arrived inexplicably late.
While reading articles to write this post I came across a number of reports of voters voting the way they did because they felt obliged to follow the spiritual leader of their religious sect. Others dutifully followed the instructions of polling place workers to vote for the list that the poll workers favored.
At the Al-Khazrajiya school in the city's old quarter, Najat Ridha, 48, was ushered into a classroom and handed two ballots, one for the national assembly and another for the local provincial council.
An election worker suggested she vote for list 285 headed by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and a local list headed by governor Duraid Kashmula.
She ticked the boxes obligingly and walked out - just as Zahra Ibrahim, 60, did before her.
"I really just did what they asked me to do," she said as the Iraqi national anthem crackled on a loudspeaker in the background.
For one thing, the assembly will need to elect a new president and prime minister by a two-thirds majority. Since no single group is likely to win two-thirds of the seats, several competing groups are predicted to strike alliances in order to form a government.
In the next round of negotiations to create a permanent (okay, not permanent, but pretend permanent) Iraqi constitution expect to see the Shiites try to remove the super-majority requirement for selecting the Iraqi president and prime minister.
William Norman Grigg argues that Democracy Isn't Liberty.
In a democracy, voting is, at best, an exercise in participatory plunder. At worst, it is a means of empowering a majority to oppress or even liquidate the minority. In a constitutional republic, by way of contrast, the voting franchise serves a fundamentally defensive purpose. It is a means not only of choosing representative leaders, but also of removing them should they prove a threat to individual rights and property. While the vote is a crucial mechanism of accountability, it will avail little for the cause of liberty in the absence of a written constitution that limits the powers that government can exercise.
As James Madison noted in The Federalist Papers, in a quote all genuine conservatives should recall, "democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."
The Rwandan genocide, perpetrated by that African nation’s Hutu majority against its Tutsi minority, could be considered a particularly vigorous exercise of the type of democracy Madison alluded to. The Yugoslavian civil wars of the 1990s were, in large measure, prompted by fears of similar majoritarian massacres. Given the horrible fate historically suffered by ethnic minorities in the region, Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims all sought to create ethnic states where they would be in the majority.
There are many obstacles to creation of sustainable liberal democracy in Iraq which the US occupation either can not or will not address. Also, most US interventions in other countries did not create sustainable democracies. How long will not-exactly-liberal democracy be sustained in Iraq? How long will it take for the elections to become so manipulated that the democratic process in Iraq becomes a charade?
ASSAILANTS triggered co-ordinated explosions outside five churches in Baghdad and Mosul yesterday, killing 11 people and wounding more than 50 in the first major assault on Iraq's Christian minority since the 15-month-old insurgency began.
The attacks against Iraq's 750,000-member Christian community seemed to confirm members' fears they might be targeted as suspected collaborators with US forces amid a rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism.
BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Assyrian Christian compound in Baghdad came under mortar attack yesterday, just over a week after bombers killed up to 15 Christians, news reports and church officials said.
Christians, who make up about 3 per cent of Iraq's population of 25 million, have traditionally kept a relatively low profile. A spate of attacks on alcohol sellers fuelled fears that Christians might be singled out for attack, but until Sunday, their places of worship had seemed safe.
The US military has warned that guerrillas opposed to the presence of more 160,000 foreign troops may try to deepen divisions between the country’s diverse religious communities in their campaign to destabilise Iraq.
"It is terrible and worrying because it is the first time that Christian churches are being targeted in Iraq," said the Vatican deputy spokesman, Father Ciro Benedettini. "There seems to be an attempt to heighten tensions by trying to affect all social groups, including churches," he said.
I do not totally buy the "heighten tensions" explanations. My guess is that the Sunni radicals from outside of Iraq see Christians as a group that ought to either leave or totally submit to Muslim rule. They are telling the Christians to submit to Muslim rule and to have no ambitions or involvement in the current civil war for control of the country.
This illusory British "protection" proved fatal. In July 1933, a band of armed Assyrians tried to flee into neighboring Syria, and a border skirmish erupted. Iraqi authorities portrayed it as a full-blown insurrection by an Assyrian fifth column trying to bring back their imperialist protectors. That summer, Iraqi troops and armed Kurdish tribesmen led a massacre against Assyrians, culminating in the slaughter of hundreds of helpless Assyrian villagers on August 11. On their return to Baghdad, a cheering populace showered the troops with rose water and pelted them with flowers for their victory in crushing the Assyrian "revolt."
Today, Assyrians are again asking for a protected province in the north, as well as money to fund a hotline and three safe houses for victims of anti-Christian crimes. "If we can get a zone in the north of Iraq, the rest of Iraq is going to go to hell, but we can be safe," says Mr. Joseph. "Otherwise, Chicago and San Diego and Detroit had better get ready for another flood of Assyrian refugees."
Christians probably do need their own zone if they are to be safe in Iraq. But the United States is not yet ready to accept the idea of partition. So expect to see a rising wave of Christians fleeing Iraq for Syria, Canada, Australia, and the United States as fast they can manage to get permission to go to each of these places.
Note that Syria is a desired destination for fleeing Christians because Christians are far safer in Baathist-ruled Syria where most of the top leaders are members of the minority Muslim Alawite sect. I hope the neoconservatives do not manage to get their way and get the United States to overthrow the Alawites (as Richard Perle and David Frum advocate - and some see their advocacy as a sign of insanity - though I mostly attribute it to a mixture of foolishness and divided loyalties). If that happened then Syria would cease to be a safe haven for Arab Christians. At the very least the neocons must be made to agree that the United States should be willing to accept all Christian refugees from Syria if the Syrian government is overthrown. Or the neocons ought to admit to the necessity of partition if the United States is going to overthrow secular regimes in countries that suffer from deep tribal, religious, and ethnic splits. If we are going to destroy safe havens we ought to give people new safe places to live.
Also see my previous post Assyrian Christians Trying To Flee Iraq To Escape Muslim Rule.
Writing for the New York Times Somini Sengupta reports on declining educational opportunities and restricted ability to go into public for women in Iraq. (free registration required)
During the school year, young men claiming to represent new religious groups arrived at some schools, demanding that girls' heads be covered or long-sleeved shirts be required. Not surprisingly, an increasing number of the girls seem to be covering their heads — as much out of fear as out of newfound conviction. Some have stopped going to school altogether, as much because of the threat of violence as because of the economic hardships facing their families. In Yosor's school, for example, 700 girls registered for classes this past year, compared with 850 the previous year.
Keep in mind that since the population of Iraq is growing if girls were maintaining their same rate of school attendance we'd expect to see more, not less, girls enrolling in schools.
Writing for Foreign Policy Swanee Hunt and Cristina Posa report on the trend toward lower levels of education and rights for women in Iraq began as far back as the early 1990s. (free registration required)
Conditions for Iraqi women have certainly deteriorated since the Persian Gulf War of 1991. Today, mothers who can read have daughters who cannot, and the older generation often displays more modern views than the younger. Those who recall pre-Hussein Iraq remember women's political activism. The Iraqi Women's League was founded in 1952 but forced underground by Hussein soon after the Baath Party took over in 1968.
Many of these gains were lost during the economic depression that followed international sanctions in the 1990s. Men took priority in the shrinking job market. Families pulled girls out of school to work at home, and female literacy plummeted. Iraqis increasingly turned to religion for solace, sharpening the divide between the country's Shiite Muslims (who constitute roughly 60 percent of the population), and Sunni Muslims (who account for about 35 percent). Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, launched a “Faith Campaign” in the early 1990s that attempted to co-opt the support of conservative religious leaders while eradicating Shiite leadership, rolling back women's legal protections in the process. Nevertheless, Shiite Islam's influence grew steadily throughout the 1990s, chiefly because its focus on social justice attracted the poor and oppressed and also because Hussein's crackdowns strengthened Shiite solidarity.
I expect Iraqi politicians to appease the fundamentalists at the expense of the rights of women. The rise of fundamentalism in Iraq was obvious before the war to topple Saddam Hussein and his fall may have accelerated the trend. See my pre-war post Islamist Forces Challenge To Post-War Iraq Reconstruction for more details.
The blast in the eastern city of Jalalabad destroyed a bus taking the Afghan women to register female voters for the polls scheduled for September, which the Taliban and allied Islamic militants have vowed to disrupt.
"We did this because we warned people not to get involved in the election process," Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi said after contacting Reuters by telephone. "This only strengthens the foundations of the American-backed government."
BAGHDAD, Jan. 15 -- For the past four decades, Iraqi women have enjoyed some of the most modern legal protections in the Muslim world, under a civil code that prohibits marriage below the age of 18, arbitrary divorce and male favoritism in child custody and property inheritance disputes.
Saddam Hussein's dictatorship did not touch those rights. But the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council has voted to wipe them out, ordering in late December that family laws shall be "canceled" and such issues placed under the jurisdiction of strict Islamic legal doctrine known as sharia.
The Bush Administration, whose obvious official view is that religion is, by its very nature, inherently good, is probably going to gloss over the mounting problems posed by Islam to the reformation of Iraq into a semi-liberal democracy. Many conditions in Iraq are not encouraging for the development of a society where individual rights (especially for women) are respected. Iraq will most likely end up with the outward form of democracy. But the resulting government will not operate at all according to ideals that many Westerners assume are the natural outcome of democracy. That democracy will produce illiberal results in Arab societies is predictable in advance. As Stanley Kurtz has argued Germany and Japan were possessed of essential qualities at the end of WWII that Iraq does not now possess. Successful efforts at societal transformation take a long time and it seems very unlikely that the US is going to stay in Iraq all that long, let alone actually start making the kinds of deep changes to Iraqi society that will require decades to become permanent. The neoconservatives are instead ready to launch new wars since wars are quicker and more fun than the tedious work of trying to develop roots for liberalism in illiberal societies.
Cousin marriage such a huge obstacle and the Sunni distrust of democracy as assuring Shia dominance is such another large obstacle that I question whether Iraq should even be maintained as a single country. Partition may produce the best results given the limit on the depth of the kinds of changes that the Bush Administration is trying to make to Iraqi society.
Sharon Waxman has written an excellent article in The Washington Post about the status of women in Iraq.
Throughout the 1980s, women were encouraged to work because so many men were sent to the front lines. But as Islamic revivalism seeped into the culture and jobs evaporated under U.N. sanctions after 1991, the government began to pressure women to leave their jobs and stay home. The religious campaign was a new wrinkle in a complex, suspicion-ridden society. Over the past few years, many women began to don the veil, while hair salons -- symbols of a Westernized ideal of female beauty -- were discouraged from continuing their business.
The article relates the experiences of a number of Iraqi women. They are organizing to create at least one women's political association called the Iraqi Women's League (not to be confused with at least one expatriate organization of the same title). Some Iraqi women are actually taking off their veils now that the Saddam Hussein regime is overthrown. Whether they will manage to keep the veils off without suffering reprisals remains to be seen.
The occupation administration needs to elevate women to important positions. It also needs to be very aggressive at hunting down any Islamists who start attacking women who are unveiled or working in jobs where the Islamists do not want to see women. The US is not going to succeed in politically transforming Iraq if it does not manage to protect the rights of Iraqi women.
Tina Susman of Newsday has written another excellent article on the status of women in Iraq. Muslim militants may be spreading false rumours of female abductions in order to scare women out of moving around on their own.
"So many times I have asked my mother, why was I born a girl? Our society does not allow girls to go to the cinema. It's for boys only. We cannot go anywhere except with our brothers or fathers. I can't go anywhere on my own. And now, with the fears of kidnappings, people are saying they must make their daughters wear the hijab," she said.
The need for security in schools and hospitals has provided an opening for religious groups to provide the security. But they demand more restrictive rules governing interactions between men and women. An example cited in the article is a children's hospital where the Islamist security personnel do not let the male doctors treat female patients. Lawlessness works to the benefit of the Islamists.
Writing for The Christian Science Monitor Ilene R. Prusher reports on the enforcement of Islamic dress codes in Iraq.
The quickly evolving dress code is not limited to mosques. At Al Mustansirriye University in Baghdad, new guidelines have been posted on student bulletin boards by "security officers" who say they have been elected to represent the Hawza on campus. On professor complains that Baath Party enforcers are just being replaced by Hawza authorities.
Veronique Taveau, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, cited a female Iraqi U.N. employee who had received a written death threat warning her and her daughters to wear an Islamic headcovering. The frightened woman had complied.
Veronique Taveau's name sounds French. Therefore she may already have experience with Islamists enforcing dress codes in some parts of France. She's now getting a big dose of what is in store for her country's future as the Muslim population of France steadily increases.
The Islamists are probably not the biggest problem for Iraqi women at this point though. The presence of women in public life has been drastically decreased due to fears of rapists.
The fear of rape in the city is now so widespread that families are rearranging their daily activities around providing security for their daughters. Dedicated fathers such as Abdel-Hassan take personal steps to ensure their safety at school, but many who are unable or disinclined to take on an additional burden are simply opting to keep their daughters at home.
Order will eventually be restored (hopefully). But the Islamists are going to be the longer term threat.
The pressure is on in Basra to wear head scarves.
The cleric appointed to run the educational system in Basra, Ahmad al-Malek, declared that female teachers would not be allowed to receive their emergency salary payment if they appeared without a head scarf.
Female students at the university said they were being harassed by followers of these Shiite clerics for not wearing head scarves, and many shops in the market have put up signs that read, "My sister, cover your hair."
Whose idea was it to appoint a cleric to run the schools in Basra? Political Islam is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Even in Baghdad, the most socially progressive city in one of the most socially progressive Arab countries, women who leave their hair uncovered are now in the minority.
The disorder is contributing to the inability of women to play a role to create new institutions of government in Iraq. Women are afraid to go out because the streets are too dangerous for women.
But the streets of Baghdad illustrate Momad's most immediate problem. They are almost devoid of women. In shops and marketplaces, along bustling main thoroughfares and in neighborhood alleys, men outnumber women 20-to-1, remarkable in a nation where the population is 55 percent female.
“If the imams rule, they would forbid everything, even development technology like satellite dishes, the Internet and mobile phones,” said Salah, 35, as she sat on a dilapidated chair in the burned-out government building for cinema and theatrical arts where she used to work. “They just want religion. My nephew is an imam in the mosque, and we argue about this all the time. I don’t want him to rule this country.”
In the last decade women were losing ground in Iraq as Saddam Hussein enacted changes in the law designed to appeal to harder core Muslims.
One edict banned women from traveling outside Iraq without a male relative. Women interviewed said the extra financial burden effectively ended foreign travel for them.
Professional women said Saddam's power structure shut them out: Young men with lower test scores beat out women for prize slots in universities. Harassment made it impossible for many women to hold a department-head position.
The US occupation administration should make it a point to appoint Iraqi women to higher level administration positions. It should also prevent the local authorities from creating rules that are aimed to keep down women.